“If I paid you minimum wage, I’d still lose money,” a head chef once told me.
Being a young chef wasn’t hard, in the same way defusing a live bomb while being yelled at isn’t hard.
On another occasion, a former restaurant manager walked into the kitchen and dropped a stack of papers on our workbench. I had just cleaned it and was about to get on with rolling portions of ravioli. “These are CVs,” he said. “If any of you don’t like it here, well, there’s plenty more where you came from.”
Living the hard life
Artur Lockley (fake name), my then sous-chef, came back from vacation and ordered hake for the next day. He prepped the portions and got ready for dinner. It sold out instantly.
“Hey, I heard the fish sold out last night,” the head chef said the following morning, like Santa asking children what they want for Christmas.
“Yes, Chef,” Artur said as he put cherry tomatoes to dry under the heating lamp and moved on to trim and portion sirloin while waiting for his yoghurt bread dough to prove. “We had a full house, I tell you.”
“You got too much sun on your head, was it? Did you come back just to ruin my business, is it? Do you want to close this restaurant?”
“No, chef. We started the night with forty portions. Isn’t that right, John?”
“Yes, chef. Busy night, chef,” I answered while chopping cucumbers in batonnets.
“If there are any more mistakes or if you don’t order enough for tomorrow, if any prep isn’t perfect, you’re sacked.”
“And you too, John.”
“Yes, chef,” I said, moving on to the red onions after flipping the aubergine slices frying behind me and checking the stock; it could use another 30 minutes.
“Well, that’s one way to brighten the mood,” Artur said as soon as the Head Chef left.
“Yeah, a real motivational speaker,” I confirmed, and we shared a laugh.
When I first became a Head Chef, I took this doctrine with me. I wasn’t the shouting kind. I was somewhat worse–the mind game kind, and overly sarcastic. On two occasions, I made grown men cry. It’s silly if you think about it, but at the time, I thought it necessary. I was even proud of it. Look at me; I’m the tough chef now. If prep wasn’t done right, I would cut them off their tips for a week. I tell you, nothing earns you slashed tires quite the same way.
I was mean, and I was ruthless. Or, what most people like to call, a dick.
Which brings me neatly to parenting
As parents, we’re the Head Chefs of our families, quick to ground and reprimand our little chefs. Give time-outs and whatnot. Some parents even hit their children. Which I think is deplorable behaviour.
Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t work.
I had a chef who was, for lack of a better word, useless. All the prep was wrong, and his service was deplorable. I got angry at him and, at some points, downright livid. Despite my constant punishment and threats, he did not improve.
But he was on my team, and I felt it was my job to mould him into someone better. So I kept thinking, this kind of treatment worked for me, right? Why was it not working for him, then? It made me a better chef.
Or did it?
I understand now that I would’ve become a better chef regardless. It’s just in me to want to be better.
So here’s the thing, if doesn’t work with adults, why would it work with children?
It’s even worse because, unlike adults, children don’t know any better; it’s our job as parents to guide them. When they misbehave, we can’t just punish them, that’s the easy way, but it’s not the right way. We have to use those opportunities to teach them valuable lessons and make them better people. But to do this, we first have to teach ourselves.
Let me tell you how I came to change my views
I’m grateful to have been a Head Chef for so long before becoming a parent
It made me a leader–and being a parent is all about being a leader. And I was luckier still to have worked with a Co-Head Chef whose style was infuriatingly different from mine.
I was too harsh, and he was too soft.
I would die of shame if I had to tell a guest we were out of something. I mean, the guests chose our restaurant, and now they can’t eat the things they came to eat?
That was a solid failure in my book and a reason to take a ticket and wait in line at social security for unemployment benefits. My partner, however, would shrug and say, “We have this instead, which I also recommend.”
I couldn’t stand it and ended up working faster to get things done while my associate worked longer.
Take your time
My partner took his sweet ass time, and eventually, things would get done. (Also, we were paid by the hour, so he got paid more than me. See if you can figure out who’s the smart one in this story. Here’s a hint: not me.)
Amazingly, the other chef confided they preferred to work with me. Don’t know why. I believe it’s because we all came from the same school of abuse, and somehow we kind of expected it. Also, they, too, hated not being able to serve everything they were supposed to be serving.
I had to do something
But what? I couldn’t fight my associate out in the open and sour the mood for everyone. Still, something had to change. That’s when I realised he was right.
His food was perfect. Better than mine often enough. He looked healthier and saner than most of us, and the only step back was that sometimes we didn’t have stuff on the menu.
Slowly, I began to let go of my inner Marco Pierre White. But how would I keep my chefs in line if they saw me slack?
I got a dog
Here’s how you train a dog: you give it treats when it does what you want. That’s it. There’s little more to it. I taught my dog to sit, lay down, roll over, stay, and the crowd favourite, BANG! You’re dead.
When it doesn’t do what you want, you don’t react. And if you do have to punish your dog, you can’t use its name. It’s essential, or it will stop coming to you when you call it. Why would it? Would you come to someone who may or may not want to harm you? (I never liked my name, and today I think I know why.)
Don’t treat people like dogs. That’s just not cool
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you walk around with biscuits in your pocket, but there are transferable skills here.
For one, I stopped being mean and sarcastic at work.
If a chef did something wrong, I would be patient and take the time to teach them the right way as many times as needed. (Mind me, this didn’t happen overnight. Old habits die hard, but I strived to do better. To be better. I wanted to know if I could make my team the best team possible.)
I learned that their conduct was not my responsibility.
And neither is my son’s.
It’s counterintuitive, I know, and many people may disagree, but the matter of fact is that it’s true, and when you put it to practice, you’ll be amazed to find that it works.
Learn to be forgiving and treat others with respect
Something remarkable happened.
I became happier at work.
My chefs were happier too, and they never worked harder or better than then.
I stopped seeing myself as the boss but as a teacher, leader, and coworker. I got everyone to help out when making new menus, and the team came together like a pack of wolves.
I didn’t have to work harder anymore, and my Co-Head chef never had to work longer. For the first time in my career, I worked in a scream-free kitchen.
I took that doctrine to every place that I have worked since. People came to me for advice on how to do things instead of being afraid to ask and ultimately failing.
This way, when we failed, we failed together as a team. And that is beautiful.
I began to resent Gordon Ramsay and others like him
They are responsible for my dark years and making me a jerk when I didn’t have to be.
I have a two-year-old now. He pulled the biggest tantrum of his little life at the supermarket while I tried to pay the cashier. My dad would’ve yanked my arm and said, “would you like bear soup?” Bear soup would be the whooping that followed. It’s surprising how I still don’t respect him.
I asked my son what the problem was, but he was all in, and no amount of consoling would calm him down. Yet, despite the dozens of strangers staring at us, I waited.
My son refused my touch, so I sat on the floor and smiled at the crowd. I gave my son the time and space he needed to deal with his emotions and learn from this experience. It was hard, I tell you–he cried for 20 minutes. But that was an opportunity that I could not pass.
And why punish the little man if he was already in so much pain?
It just works
You could think that I’m enabling this kind of behaviour by not interfering, but that isn’t so.
You see, I’m not responsible for his feelings. He is. My job is to be there and help guide him through them, that’s all.
When we go to the supermarket now, we have a wonderful time together. (Unless he’s tired or hungry. He’s a toddler, after all.)
I ask him to choose the bread, and he does. He points at the candy, and I say, “that’s not good for us. But we can get strawberries or blueberries?” I accept his feelings and give him options.
He feels happy and included. I’m not trying to raise a child who is afraid to misbehave–I’m raising an adult who’s in control of his emotions and actions.
And if he ends up splattered on the floor crying his eyes out, well, that’s on him. He has to deal with his emotions, not me. I’ve gotten pretty good a sitting around waiting for a tantrum to pass.
Every time I fought his tantrum, I only made it worse. And I can see that he learned absolutely nothing from it. And I just ended up feeling awful about it.
We’re all children until the day we die
I’m not saying he won’t pull any more tantrums.
I mean, I’m well in my thirties, and I still throw tantrums–we all do from time to time.
How can we expect none from a child?
It’s insane to think about how some people hit their children and how some are even proud of it. Let me teach my son how to behave by adopting a worse and appaling behaviour — that ought to work.
Worst of all, these parents honestly believe it’s the right thing to do. I don’t hate them. I only wish I could show them a better way.
Here’s the bottom line
Had my life gone differently, had I not met that slacker, I would be issuing, “go to your room and think about what you’ve done,” or, “you’re in trouble now, mister,” or yank him out of the supermarket still crying and making him feel ashamed for what he’d done–ashamed of himself–chipping away at his confidence.
An unproductive kind of parenting that only serves to raise rebellious children; kids who fear their parents and only come to them for rescue because they are out of options instead of coming for advice; kids who might very well grow into unstable adults.
If you have to take anything from this story is this: Unlike what you may have heard, being a parent is not about raising children; it’s about raising yourself.
We are the ones that need to grow.
Do that and watch your children grow with you. This way, you foster self-regulation in your children. I learned recently that this is called co-regulation.
It’s that simple, even if counterintuitive.
Simple in theory. In practice, though, it takes a lot of self-control. And let’s be honest, if self-control were easy, everyone would do it.
And isn’t learning self-control a significant part of growing?
This post was previously published on medium.com.
You may also like these posts on The Good Men Project:
|White Fragility: Talking to White People About Racism||Escape the “Act Like a Man” Box||The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer||What We Talk About When We Talk About Men|
Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com